Lance Corporal 14499 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment
1885 – 25th September 1915
Charles Edward Morris was born in Barnstaple; he was the son of Annie Morris. His birth was registered in late 1885 although he was baptised on the 2nd April 1887 in St. Mary Magdalene Church in Barnstaple.
Charles had a sister Annie Morris who was born in 1888 and she (recorded as Delbridge) was baptised in St. Mary Magdalene Church on the 21st March 1890.
Charles’ mother Annie married John Delbridge in the 4th quarter of 1888, although there is no record of her marriage in St. Mary Magdalene Church where she later had her other children baptised. The 1891 census shows she was living with her husband John and her daughter Annie in Swansea; her husband John Delbridge was employed as a worker at a Silver Works in Swansea.
The 1891 census in Barnstaple shows that Charles Morris who by this time was 6 years old was living with the Cann family in Pilton, it was noted on the census he was a nephew of the Cann’s; there was also an Elizabeth Morris aged 68 living in their household.
The next information available is the 1901 census and this shows that Charles Morris, then aged 16, was living back with his mother and his sister Annie aged 13 in Union Street. Charles’ occupation at this time was recorded as a worker in the Lace Factory. Also living in the house in Union Street was John Delbridge and his and Annie’s children William, Elizabeth, Frederick and Thomas. Thomas, the youngest child, was the only one born in Barnstaple so it would appear that Annie Delbridge and her husband John returned to Barnstaple to live sometime after the birth of their son Frederick in Swansea in 1897. The records available do not show whether Charles went to live with his mother Annie in Wales or whether he went back to live with her on her return to Barnstaple.
By the time of the 1911 census Charles’ mother Annie Delbridge had two more children Leonard and Doris; Annie and John Delbridge were at that time living at 10 Union Street in Barnstaple. Charles therefore had a total of seven brothers and sisters.
Charles (recorded as Morrish) had married Blanche Nott in early 1905 and by the time of the 1911 census they were living at 14 Union Street, Barnstaple with their children Elizabeth, Alice, Thomas and Ivy. Charles was aged 26 by this time and his occupation was recorded as a Carter for a Builder. By 1915 Charles and Blanche had two more children Leslie in 1914 and Annie in 1915.
Charles is referred to as Morrish in all his Army records and the information about him on the Medal Rolls Index Cards states:
‘Theatre of War first served – France. Date of entry – 25th July 1915.
Presumed dead – 25th September 1915’.
As Charles’ youngest child Annie was only born in 1915 this seems to confirm the fact that he had only gone to France two months before he was killed at the Battle of Loos.
An article in the North Devon Journal on the 28th October 1915 Page 5 reads as follows:-
It appears that Charles was amongst the early casualties on the first day of the Battle of Loos.
Nearly a year after the start of the Battle of Loos a further North Devon Journal Article on the 21st September 1916 Page 5 then read as follows:-
Charles had joined the 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment, which was the first service Battalion formed by the Devonshire’s in the First World War in August 1914. The 9th Battalion Devonshire was formed soon after and was known as the ‘twin’ of the 8th, the battalions served closely together until 1918. Recruits came from all over the country and their officers were initially recruited from the universities, public schools and the Artists’ Rifles.
The Battle of Loos took place on the Western Front from the 25th September 1915 – 19th October 1915. The 8th and 9th Battalions of the Devonshire’s had joined 20 Brigade in the 7th Division in early August 1915. This was to be the British Army’s contribution to a major allied offensive; the French were to focus on the heights of Vimy Ridge, whilst the British were to advance into the sector of Loos-Hulluch on the Gohelle Plain.
The Battle commenced on the 25th September 1915; this was to be the first battle where the British used poison gas, in this case chlorine gas. The 8th Battalion went forward leading the attack and captured the German position in spite of the volume of German shelling and the gas blowing back on them during the attack. The 9th Battalion followed losing many men to machine gun fire in No Man’s Land. They joined the 8th Battalion in their stretch of the German trench, which they held until the evening of the 26th September before they withdrew. In this one battle the 8th Battalion had 639 casualties with the 9th Battalion suffering 476 casualties.
By the 28th September 1915 the British had retreated to their starting positions having suffered over 20,000 casualties. The British made a final attack on the 13th October 1915 but because of the combination of heavy rain and German shelling the attempt was abandoned. The total of British casualties for this period was 59,247. Both Battalions were later moved to the Somme area which remained a relatively quiet sector until the offensive began on 1st July 1916.
In April 1917 a War Shrine was unveiled in Barnstaple and Charles Morrish was listed amongst the many casualties who had lived in Union Street Barnstaple. A North Devon Journal article on the 26th April 1917 Page 7 about the war memorial starts as follows:-
and continues to list the men of the Derby streets including Charles’ name as of Union Street. Our map of Barnstaple WW1 casualties, on display in the Local Studies foyer, clearly shows the number of losses in such a small area, the street bearing the highest losses of any in the town.
Charles Morrish’s name is on the Loos Memorial; the Loos Memorial is at Loos-en-Gahelle, France and commemorates over 20,000 British soldiers who were killed from the 25th September 1915 to the end of the war in 1918 in that region.
The majority of the names on the Loos Memorial to the missing were killed in action during the Battle of Loos with many of them killed in No Man’s land. As the front line in this sector did not change very much after the Battle of Loos it was not possible to recover many of the bodies until the area was cleared after the end of the war. The unburied human remains and the pieces of kit which had been subjected to shelling and the weather during the rest of the war made it impossible for bodies to be identified by 1919 when they started clearing the area .
In 1915 British servicemen only had one identity disc and these would have been collected from the bodies after the Battle of Loos as a way of establishing the number of casualties which made later identification even more difficult.
Charles’ mother Annie Delbridge emigrated to Quebec, Canada in 1915 with some of her children to join her husband John.
His widow Blanche married Alfred Cann in 1920 in Barnstaple. She was living in Barnstaple in 1939 in Lissets Close, Union Street.
Ancestry Library Edition – Census records; UK Outward Passenger Lists 1890-1960 (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)
British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)
https://www.francisfrith.com – Image of St Mary Magdalene Church, Barnstaple
Use of Chemical Weapons in World War 1
Chemical weapons were first used in World War 1, they were used to injure or kill the enemy where they were entrenched. Gas clouds were slow moving so were most effective when used for this purpose. Some of the gases used like tear gas or mustard gas were disabling and others like phosgene and chlorine were lethal.
Gas was responsible for 4% of deaths in the war, partly because countermeasures like gas masks were developed so gas became less effective.
The use of gas by all sides during the First World War was classed as a war crime as it violated the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 in relation to the use of Asphyxiating Gases and Land Warfare.
The earliest use of tear gas was by the French in August 1914 and it was used as an irritant rather than a weapon to kill or disable the enemy. However the amounts used were so small that it wasn’t detected by the Germans and the stocks were soon used. Later in 1914 the Germans used small amounts of gas against the British although again it was barely detectable.
The first use of gas on a large scale was by the Germans when they fired on the Russians in Poland in early 1915, however because it was so cold the chemicals froze and therefore did not have the desired effect.
In April 1915 the Germans used larger amounts of chlorine gas against French Colonial Troops just north of Ypres. Chlorine can be used an irritant but prolonged exposure to this gas can lead to death. The Germans used gas on several more occasions in 1915 against the French Colonial troops, the Canadians, the British and then on the eastern front against the Russians.
The British were outraged at Germany’s use of chemical weapons initially but they then developed their own capability. The first use of gas by the British was at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, but the attempt was a disaster. Chlorine gas was used but a successful attack depended on a favourable wind, however the wind was changeable on that that day and the gas either blew back on the British troops or lingered in No Man’s Land. Alongside these problems not all the gas was released because the wrong tuning keys had been sent with the canisters and further shelling by the Germans on the British positions meant that more gas was released among the British troops.
The situation was compounded by the flannel gas masks used by the British troops; as the masks got hot the small eyepieces misted over and the troops would lift them up to get fresh air and were then gassed.
The use of gas was developed and used throughout the remainder of the First World War and was used by both sides. Mustard gas which is one of the most commonly known gases was not used by the British until 1917. It did not need to be inhaled just contact with the skin was enough. Small concentrations of the gas would cause blisters and it would cause victims to become temporarily blinded in many cases; it also caused fevers, headaches and pneumonia because of its effect on the lungs. Mustard gas when dispensed in shells would settle as an oily liquid on the ground and would contaminate an area for several days. People who died of mustard gas poisoning often took several weeks to die.
Many people who survived gas attacks suffered long term effects including brain, sight and lung problems for the rest of their lives.
Gas was not as effective a weapon as some others as there were things that could be done to prevent its effect; initially troops were advised to use a wet handkerchief over their nose and mouth and then they used pads soaked in a bicarbonate of soda solution. The gas helmet which covered the head entirely was the next invention, a bag ingrained with chemicals that covered the head entirely but these chemicals would wash out into the eyes of the wearer. The final invention was the box respirator which had two pieces, a mouthpiece connected to a box filter which held chemicals which neutralised the gas and a mask. This design then led to the small box respirator which was a single item with a close fitting mask with eye pieces, this was compact and could be worn around the neck.
Gas was mainly used on the Western Front, because it was effective with the trench system of warfare where troops were static for long periods; although Germany did use it against the Russians on the Eastern Front. There were an estimated 1.3 million casualties of chemical weapons during the First World War.